A Queering of Black Theology:
James Baldwin’s Blues Project and Gospel Prose
by El Kornegay Jr.
My Life in Medicine
by Louis W. Sullivan with David Chanoff
(University of Georgia Press)
Community Action Against Racism in West Las Vegas:
The F Street Wall and the Women Who Brought It Down
by Robert J. McKee
Women, Slavery, and the Legacy of Margaret Garner
edited by Mary E. Frederickson and Delores M. Walters
(University of Illinois Press)
River of Hope:
Black Politics and the Memphis Freedom Movement, 1865–1954
by Elizabeth Gritter
(University Press of Kentucky)
The Great White Way:
Race and the Broadway Musical
by Warren Hoffman
(Rutgers University Press)
Helen Wan’s The Partner Track is a newly published novel that paints a vivid picture of life inside a corporate law firm and the internal struggles and challenges of a female, Asian-American lawyer seeking to become partner. The book illuminates the ways in which minorities and women are still viewed within hierarchical, white male-dominated organizational structures and highlights the particular embarrassment that can result from being singled out to personify the firm’s diversity initiatives. In situations of high competition, minority and female status can even be seen as a threat, since some may mistakenly presume that such status confers advantage.
Ingrid Yung, the protagonist in the novel, is a descendant of immigrant parents from Taiwan, who knows how to speak Mandarin, but prefers to separate herself from identification with her ethnic roots in the presence of a competing, yet socially awkward attorney from mainland China. The nuances of her relationship with her parents are delicately portrayed. Ingrid’s mother addresses her on the phone as “Ingrid-ah”—perhaps reflecting the difficulty in enunciating the syllables in American names. Ingrid’s parents sacrificed much for her success, and are justifiably proud of her groundbreaking accomplishments. As her mother declares, “Nobody bosses my Ingrid around.” It is this unmistakable sense of pride and independence that accompanies Ingrid as she confronts repeated incidents that question her identity, her right to be at the firm, and her competence.
Without revealing the twists and turns of the plot, the most telling revelation comes when Ingrid realizes that it was not hard work that would land her a partnership and that her mistakes would count more heavily than for others. As Ingrid reflects (p. 238):
I had completely bought into the myth of a meritocracy. Somehow I’d actually been foolish enough to believe that if I simply kept my head down and worked hard, and did everything, everything that was asked of me, I would be rewarded. What an idiot.
The novel also chronicles with subtle humor Ingrid’s interactions with the firm’s diversity consultant who has been hired after a tasteless, racialized skit at the firm’s corporate outing. Later when Ingrid is singled out at the firm’s diversity event designed to repair the damage from the skit at the outing, she is unwittingly made the poster child for the diversity initiative and later suffers consequences for her required participation.
Ingrid describes her valiant efforts to stay at the corporate law firm for eight years, hoping that “all of these little humiliations and exclusions amount to something.” As she reflects,
More than anything, I wanted, once and for all, to shake that haunting suspicious that, while my record impressed and my work made the grade, I was ultimately not valued (p, 164).
The themes of the book underscore the research perspectives shared by Leslie Picca and Joe Feagin in Two-faced Racism: Whites in the Backstage and Frontstage.
This study identifies the spatial nature of modern-day discrimination based on the review of the diary accounts of 1000 college students. Based on this extensive research data, Picca and Feagin conclude that performances or comments made by white actors in the frontstage when diverse individuals are present significantly diverge from closed-door backstage performances that occurred when only whites are present. Similarly, Ingrid struggles with her own identity as she gains glimpses of the backstage while she is simultaneously paraded as a model of diversity in the frontstage.
Yet at the same time, there are hopeful notes sounded in Helen Wan’s beautifully narrated story. The novel has much to offer in terms of charting the progressive pathway toward a self-affirming identity for women and minority professionals and leaders. And as Alvin Evans and I highlight in The New Talent Acquisition Frontier, from an organizational perspective, talent is the most important strategic asset necessary for success and survival in a globally interconnected world. As a result, empowering diverse and talented employees and eliminating the spatial separation between frontstage and backstage performances are essential steps in the attainment of social integration and genuinely inclusive workplaces.
There are some incredible opportunities out there right now to get certificates, higher ed and even advanced degrees specializing in the experience of Americans of color. Want a degree in Asian American Studies? Sure. How about African American, Native or American Indian, Latin American, Mexican American or Chicano studies? Absolutely. Google all of these and you’ll find brilliant choices to be credentialed in these heritage experiences at very fine colleges and universities.
But what if you ID as mixed-race multicultural across any of these racial lines? Is there a degree for that?
“Not that I’m aware of,” writes Steven F. Riley of MixedRaceStudies.org (46), “The vast majority of courses on mixed-race studies are within the disciplines of Sociology, Psychology, History and Literature, etc.” Despite the fact that the crop of students moving through college today is the largest group of self-identified mixed-race people ever to come of age in the U.S., “In traditional Ethnic Studies,” writes University of California, Berkeley: Center for Race and Gender, “Mixed race scholarship has often been marginalized, misappropriated, tokenized or simply left out.”
Indeed it has only been in recent history that an arena for multi-race discourse has even forcibly begun construction mostly due to multiracials themselves. In the US this is because we have (a) not only a history of denying mixed race which persists but (b) a habit of continuing to operate under the assumption that race can be easily identified and filed away. Anyone who can’t be instantly categorized by visual scanning either gets shoved into something that kinda sorta fits, shows up as a mere blip on the cognitive-radar screen or flies under it completely. Case in point, whether by choice or lack of choice, some of the more visible mixed-race Asian scholars/authors right now are embedded in other departments at their campuses: Laura Kina (Art, Media, & Design, DePaul University), Leilani Nishime (Dept of Communication, University of Washington), Stephen Shigematsu-Murphy (Asian American Studies, Stanford University), Rebecca Chiyoko King-O’Riain (Sociology, University of Ireland).
I woke up one morning and had this great idea to write a post on multiracial studies, classes and programs in higher ed. The first day I sat in front of the screen I naively believed I could come up with some sort of beginner, working list through a neat Google Search. Within 15 minutes I had searched about five or six variations of “mixed race studies,” found shockingly little, threw up my hands, and was so irritated I gave up. In fact after that quarter hour I was pretty sure I didn’t want to write this post at all. I supposed stuff was out there but felt confounded to find it without launching an epic dissertation-level exhaustive research project.
“Well,” I thought to myself, “Why don’t I just leave it to college counselors, professors and academics who have the inside scoop.” But then I thought twice. What about the exploding number of young people such as mixed race high schoolers (one day my son) who are starting to think about college, have a blossoming awareness of their multiraciality and would like to be in an environment that supports them, even allows them to pursue degrees along those lines? For that matter, what about any number of mixed race folk wanting to pursue professional certificates or advanced degrees along those lines, or the millions of others increasingly vested in mixed race issues? Are any of these folks going to sit at a computer for hours on a fruitless wild-goose chase that dead-ends in needing to rely on others “more in the know”?
Now I’m not talking student interest clubs and groups here. Those seem to abound and admittedly, are deeply important. But such involvement may or may not be resume material and, let’s be honest, in our society extracurricular certainly doesn’t hold the weight of alphabet soup like B.A. M.A. Ph.D. etc. I also suspect such groups centrally revolve around offering social support, which is of course extremely critical, but may not offer the mixed young person academic space to round-out by learning deeply and reflecting critically upon the construction of race mixing in the US. No. What I’m talking about is also giving mixed race students the space/option to explore their history and identity in their studies, and to become credentialed experts of their own experience.
So what happens when the historically overlooked and unrecognized mixed-race person hops on Google to figure out if they can spend thousands of dollars (they probably don’t have) on an education that would enrich their existence in a racially policed/divided world? It’s not good, people. It’s not good. The average Google Search garners 92% of all its traffic on Page 1. Page 2 only sees about 5%, Page 3 about 1%, and by Page 4 – well, just forget it. In the interest of posterity, let’s take a look at the critical first page of my Google Searching for mixed race studies at college and university campuses across the US:
Search phrase: degree mixed race studies
Of 10 first page results**: The top 3 results turned up this hub, a seriously great and well-known hub of mixed race research. But a quick perusal does not immediately show a listing of places to pursue such research and as we saw earlier, Riley himself states very clearly that he knows of no specific mixed race degree program. Following the top third, 2 results turned up a fairly new endeavor spearheaded by Laura Kina (among others) out of De Paul Unviersity. It is an expanding multiracial academic community that currently includes a biannual conference and academic journal. The website certainly lists organizations and hubs but again, I didn’t see a list of schools to pursue studies.
Following this, 2 search results turned up San Francisco State University’s Master’s in Ethnic Studies which is “increasingly concerned with mixed race studies” but obviously not a mixed race degree. Of the remaining, 1 search result was a write-up of the first Critical Mixed Race Studies postgraduate symposium ever offered at the University of Leeds in May of this year, 1 search result was a graduate thesis, 1 search result was a graduate student bio and 1 search result was a listing for a design-you-own-Master’s at Southern Methodist University.
Of course we see the obvious inability to obtain a specific critical mixed-race studies degree. But also notice the heavy, heavy emphasis on graduate, postgraduate and doctoral level research. In my view this does not allow very accessible entry points into the field of multiracial studies at all. We see a possible end result – but how to even begin? And what if a person does not aspire to become a researcher? Can there be an option to learn without the pressure to contribute to a growing body of mixed-race scholarship that’s struggling to exist? Search phrases like degree multi-ethnic studies or degree multiracial studies and the outcome isn’t much better. Personally I love researching and am excited by finding any results at all. But as the mother of a mixed race child who may or may not follow in his mother’s footsteps, I always have an eye to his future and best interests too. If my 4 year old goes to college one day, I want to feel less nervous and way more comfortable that wherever he goes as a new “legal” adult and young person existing across racial lines, he will find a place to learn more about himself in a life-giving way. I think we’re headed there but we still have a long way to go. I hope to see before my son fills out his first college application (aside from maybe no racial checkboxes to deal with), at least one campus that boasts an entire Critical Mixed Race Department. Pipe dream? We’ll see…
**(Note: I recognize that Google Search results change rapidly and the first page I analyze here is only a snapshot. Subsequent searches by others may turn up different, even very different results.) See my blog, too.
On Friday’s here, we’re highlighting resistance to racism. How do you tell someone they sound racist? In this short video (2:59) from 2008 Jay Smooth breaks it down:
This video has almost 1 million views since it first appeared, so maybe he’s on to something. What do you think?
Lupita Nyong’o won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress last night, for her powerful role in 12 Years a Slave, directed by Steve McQueen! Go Lupita! But lately I’ve been feeling a little fatigued by the “Oh-my-god-Lupita-Nyong’o-is-so-beautiful-I-can’t-DEAL-WITH-IT!”
The current fad-like coverage of the Kenyan actress, overshadows the more interesting things about her background, the stuff that doesn’t get reported. True, I assumed she was a nobody until this slave narrative film, but a quick skim of Wikipedia reveals the stuff that the media isn’t all that interested in.
Black and white people, alike, are enamored with Nyong’o for what I believe, are different reasons. Blacks are proud that Nyong’o crushed it in her portrayal of Patsey and I’m personally excited that we’ve got another black woman winning major acting awards. Whites seems to be most preoccupied with Nyong’o's exotic look and I think that’s something we, as a society, probably need to address.
For those who didn’t know it, Lupita Nyong’o was born in Mexico City and hails from an affluent family of artists, doctors and scholars. She attended Hampshire College, here in the states, and graduated with a degree in film and theater studies. She’s also a Yale graduate and a polyglot, fluent in several languages.
I was pretty excited to know that Nyong’o actually wrote, directed and produced a documentary, in 2009, called In My Genes, where she investigates the how Africans with albinism experiences life in a predominately black Kenya. I was stoked to know this because all I’ve seen of Lupita Nyong’o, is how beautiful she is on every red carpet she walks. Which is wonderful because Nyong’o is indeed quite beautiful! But she’s also extremely talented in other, more important ways.
I’m also weirded out by the onslaught of white people who are just plain gob-smacked by her exquisiteness. I’ve received an enormous amount of trending Facebook articles from various fashion sources that seem almost amazed by how beautiful Lupita is. It irks me that people don’t find it ironic how Nyong’o has preformed one of the most gut-wrenching representations of an enslaved black woman. Her character, Patsey, shows the reality of an enslaved body; this body is allowed to be ogled, worked to death, beaten, and raped. This body does not belong to Patsey and for some reason, it feels as though Nyong’o's body doesn’t belong to her either.
Not too much has changed in regards to the black female body. Society still turns a blind eye to the raped black female body, but leers at the black female body on display. Whether it be in a Miley Cyrus music video, on the cover of King Magazine, or on a red carpet, black female bodies are still objects to be commodified. Designers have fallen all over themselves to drape their designs on Nyong’o's black body. When commentators talk about her many red carpet looks, I find myself wondering: “Are they talking about how lovely the dress is, being held up by a black mannequin? Or are they talking about Lupita’s fascinating dark body and face?”
Admittedly, my cynicism can be dangerous. Instead of taking white people at their word, I’m being suspicious of their motives. Whites could genuinely find Nyong’o so gorgeous that they don’t know what to do with themselves: “I CAN’T!” They might find her beautiful without even consciously understanding their exotic motivations: “She’s just so. . . noble!” For all I know, they might not be trying to be provinganything when they loudly insist how stunning she is. This is 2014, why can’t I just be happy that another black woman has won an Academy Award? Young black girls of all shades are finally able to see themselves on screen! That, in itself, is really exciting!
Ugh, but then there’s that nagging feeling, the one built upon institutionalized racism and colonialism. The feeling that tells me that Lupita Nyong’o will end up just like the rest of them:
- Viola Davis, who white people thought was a national treasure because she played the help with such a noble, quiet strength.
- Quvenzhané Wallis, who was actually in 12 Years a Slave, but didn’t receive much press. For her role as Hushpuppy, in Beasts of the Southern Wild, she was nominated for a Best Leading Actress Oscar. During Oscars night, she was called the C-word by The Onion in a jokey tweet.
- Gabourey Sidibe, who played Precious, another “hard to watch” film. The white criticism was mixed and decidedly trite. But almost all of it had to do with her obesity.
- Halle Berry, the only black female to win the Best Leading Actress award. Ever. Had to preform the most cringe-worthy, upsetting sex scene with Billy Bob Thornton to be recognized by the Academy.
All of this is to say, Hopefully, one day, a black actress will win an Academy Award based on a performance that’s not based on the oppression of black women. Cate Blanchett won the award for Best Leading Actress last night. In the Woody Allen film, Blue Jasmine, she plays a New York socialite, whose life falls apart, forcing her to live with her sister in San Francisco. I’m sure she did an excellent job, she’s a great actress! But did she have to prove anything or teach black people a valuable lesson in history or humanity to get her award? Was she involved in a “teachable moment?”
Just as Blanchett is classically beautiful in, I don’t know. . . a kind of timeless way, I’m still hoping for the next great black actress to be beautiful in the same way. Not in an exotic, noble, new-car smelling way.
“Racial identity and racism shape white women’s lives: that is the repeated argument of this book,” writes Ruth Frankenberg in In her book, White Women, Race Matters. And, indeed, in many ways this is the framework for this series, the Trouble with White Women.
Frankenberg goes on to pose the question: “What are the social processes through which white women are created as social actors primed to reproduce racism within the feminist movement?”
Today, I turn to white women’s role in the second wave of the feminist movement, which spans roughly the early 1960s through the early 1980s. Any discussion of second wave feminism must start with The Feminine Mystique.
Many people credit Betty Friedan’s 1963 book, The Feminism Mystique, with launching the second wave of the feminist movement. The book, which celebrated its 50th “birthday”, is still lauded with reverential praise. What could have launched a movement and garner praise 50 years later?
Friedan’s argument in the book is often boiled down to her famously coined phrase, “the problem that has no name,” which she used to articulate the malaise felt by college-educated, middle- and upper-class, (heterosexually) married white women who were bored with leisure, with the home, with children, with buying products, who wanted more out of life. Friedan concludes her first chapter by stating: “We can no longer ignore that voice within women that says: ‘I want something more than my husband and my children and my house.’” To be sure, this was a radical notion in 1963 for white women who, like my working-class-raised mother for whom “a husband, children and a house” were a fine constellation of aspirations to have.
(Shirley, my mother, circa 1960)
What Friedan defined as the “more” that women wanted were careers. Personally, I’m grateful that someone came along, about the time I was born, and shifted the expectations for what a (white) girl child could do in this world, because that literally changed the trajectory of my life. I’m grateful, too, that my mother was able to see some of the possibilities that feminism opened up for me, if she wasn’t able to see those possibilities for her own life.
There’s a serious problem with Friedan’s vision, however. What Friedan didn’t articulate was who, exactly, would do all that work of caring for a home and taking care of children if women were “liberated” from those tasks. Nor did Friedan leave room to consider women who highest aspirations included neither men nor children.
She did not discuss who would be called in to take care of the children and maintain the home if more women like herself were freed from their house labor and given equal access with white men to the professions. She did not speak of the needs of women without men, without children, without homes. She ignored the existence of all non-white women and poor white women. She did not tell readers whether it was more fulfilling to be a maid, a babysitter, a factory worker, a clerk, or a prostitute than to be a leisure-class housewife. … When Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique, more than one-third of all women were in the work force. Although many women longed to be housewives, only women with leisure time and money could actually shape their identities on the model of the feminine mystique.
Raising children and doing housework require labor. And, Friedan’s vision of feminism was one that liberated some women (mostly white, upper-middle-class) and contributed to the oppression of other women (mostly poor, working-class, women of color).
Shirley, my mother, was certainly one of those women who “longed to be a housewife.” When she married my father (her second husband), she achieved that goal, gave up her career and never worked in the paid labor force again. But she imagined something different for me. When I would ask her to teach me something having to do with housework – how to do laundry, for example – she’d shoo me away, with a dismissive “you don’t need to know how to do that.” And, for the most part, she resolutely refused to teach me such things.
When I would press her on why not, she would answer that: “you can hire someone to do that.” You see, in my mother’s vision of my upper-middle-class, white (heterosexually) married future, she imagined that I would employ a woman of color to do the housework. While certainly not a feminist, my mother’s vision for my life was certainly consistent with Friedan’s vision of feminism.
The central problem of Friedan’s analysis of ‘the problem that has no name’ is that she takes it as universal, representative of ‘all’ women, when it is so clearly now in hindsight, the plight of an elite segment of women. Here again is bell hooks:
From her early writing, it appears that Friedan never wondered whether or not the plight of college-educated white housewives was an adequate reference point by which to gauge the impact of sexism or sexist oppression on the lives of women in American society. Nor did she move beyond her own life experience to acquire an expanded perspective on the lives of women in the United States. I say this not to discredit her work. It remains a useful discussion of the impact of sexist discrimination on a select group of women. Examined from a different perspective, it can also be seen as a case study of narcissism, insensitivity, sentimentality, and self-indulgence, which reaches its peak when Friedan, in a chapter titled “Progressive Dehumanization,” makes a comparison between the psychological effects of isolation on white housewives and the impact of confinement on the self-concept of prisoners in Nazi concentration camps.
It’s this move – placing white women at the center of all women’s experience – that is the real trouble with white feminism. Once you begin to notice this tendency, you can see that it’s a pattern that repeats itself again and again.
Returning to Ruth Frankenberg’s book, White Women, Race Matters, she an interview with “Cathy” a (white woman) participant in her study who is reflecting on her experience of being in multi-racial feminist organizations:
[I thought] I had the line on everything. And then I found out that I didn’t… I started to see that just because everybody didn’t talk like I did, it didn’t mean they didn’t have anything to say. And the reason maybe they didn’t talk like I did was because I did talk like I did. And so I started to learn about apportioning space and stuff like that. And that was all tied in with learning about the world being made up of more than one kind of person, i.e., white. It was all in the same lesson.
As Frankenberg goes on to interpret this interview by saying: “Encapsulated here is a recognition of one way in which white women may dominate feminist discourse, setting the terms and mode of discussions and not providing conceptual or auditory space for the viewpoints of women and men of color.” (p.120)
This compulsion to believe “I had the line on everything,” to know the answers, to be right, to be the center, to be the normative example, to be the index case, this is at the heart of the trouble with white feminism. The real progress begins with, “And then I found out that I didn’t…”
The interviews that Frankenberg conducted bring to light the contours of how “racial identity and racism shape white women’s lives,” not merely in terms of personal beliefs or political attitudes, but also a set of material relationships. Here is Frankenberg:
[This] clarifies some of the forms race privilege and racism may take in the lives of white women… educational and economic inequality, verbal assertions of white superiority, the maintenance of all-white neighborhoods, the ‘invisibility’ of Black and Latina domestic workers, white people’s fear of people of color, and the ‘colonial’ notion that the cultures of people of color were great only the past. …racism emerges not only as an ideology or political orientation chosen or rejected at will but also as a system of material relationships with a set of ideas linked to and embedded in those material relations.” (p.70)
What I so appreciate about this analysis is the fact that she explicitly locates white women here, and that she also names the material reality of “the maintenance of all-white neighborhoods,” and “the ‘invisibility’ of Black and Latina domestic workers.” These two seem especially tied to a particular kind of white motherhood that I see here in New York, in which “good white liberal” women have children and then, either want to move out of the city to an all-white suburb or stay in the city where they employ a Black or Latina woman to care for their children. If you want an up-close view of neo-colonialism take a ride on the M101 bus down Lexington Avenue through the Upper East Side and listen to the way that 4-and-5 year old white children speak to the mostly Black and Latina women employed to take care of them. It is clear that these interactions are part of the system of material relationships linked sustained in large measure by the white women in these households.
Separate Roads to Feminism
There is excellent research that offers an important corrective to the conventional narrative about the Friedan-inspired second wave of feminism. In Benita Roth’s Separate Roads to Feminism: Black, Chicana, and White Feminist Movements in America’s Second Wave, she argues that scholars must move beyond the common presumption that there existed a single “women’s movement” in the late 1960s and 1970s.
Instead, she contends that black and Chicana feminist organizations constituted separate feminist movements, not simply different organizations within one movement. The notion that there was one, single ”second wave” of the feminist movement leads other scholars to a line of questioning that goes something like: ”why did so few Chicanas and Black women join white women’s liberation collectives?” You can see this, for example, in works such as The Trouble Between Us: An Uneasy History of White and Black Women in the Feminist Movement. This line of inquiry situates the feminist activism of women of color as peripheral to the history of the “second wave,” and Roth’s work offers an important corrective to this tendency.
The trouble with white feminism, including some scholarship about the second wave, is that it places white women at the center, as the universal example of “all women” when in fact, we are a global minority of women on the planet.
Next week, I’ll be back with more #troublewithwhitewomen as I explore the issue of affirmative action.
Your Monday research brief with a round up of some of the latest work in the field of race and racism is here.
- Fitzgerald, Kathleen J. “The Continuing Significance of Race Racial Genomics in a Postracial Era.” Humanity & Society 38, no. 1 (2014): 49-66. (locked)
While most scientists of the twentieth century argued for understanding race as a social construction, this understanding has shifted considerably in the past decade. In the current era, biological notions of race have resurfaced not only in the scientific community but in the form of direct consumer use of DNA tests for genetic ancestry testing, sometimes referred to as genetic genealogy, and the emergence of pharmacogenomics, or the marketing of race-specific pharmaceuticals. In this article, I argue that the return of race as a biological concept in the form of racial genomics can best be understood through an application of Blumer’s race as group position theory. Using that, I argue that during the past 20 years, four specific challenges to the racial hierarchy have emerged that have threatened white dominance: the original interpretation of the Human Genome Project results declaring humans to be 99.9 percent similar, thus, dispelling the idea that race has a genetic basis, the electoral wins of President Barack Obama and the ensuing rhetoric that America is a “postracial” society, and finally, the increase in interracial relationships and biracial/multiracial identities. The emergence of racial genomics, I argue, is a response to these specific threats to the racial hierarchy and to white dominance.
- Florini, Sarah. “Recontextualizing the Racial Present: Intertextuality and the Politics of Online Remembering.” Critical Studies in Media Communication (online ahead-of-print) (2014): 1-13. (locked)
Remembering is never an end in its own right, but a means of asserting power and legitimizing social hierarchies. Thus, voices that seek to interpret the past in contradictory ways are often silenced (Zelizer, 1995). No part of the U.S. past is more called upon to legitimize contemporary racial relations than the Civil Rights Movement, which is constructed as the end of the nation’s systemic racism. Institutionalized racism is thereby relegated to history. Troubling aspects of the past that might lead citizens to interpret the contemporary U.S. as anything other than an egalitarian meritocracy are erased or rendered ideologically safe. This article examines how the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM), one of the largest contemporary Black Nationalist organizations in the U.S., uses its website to challenge the notion of a “post-racial” U.S. by undermining the history upon which this conception is built. The MXGM’s website recontextualizes contemporary events within marginalized accounts of the past to decrease the temporal distance between the racism of the past and present racial politics, constructing an uninterrupted historical continuum of racial oppression. This recontextualization process is reinforced at the structural level of the website through the inherently intertextual nature of hypertext.
- Kraszewski, J. “Branding, Nostalgia, and the Politics of Race on VH1′s Flavor of Love,” Quarterly Review of Film and Video,Volume 31, (3), 2014, 240-254. no abstract available - (locked)
- Moore, Wendy Leo. “The Legal Alchemy of White Domination Embedding White Logic in Equal Protection Law.” Humanity & Society 38, no. 1 (2014): 7-24. (locked)
The U.S. Constitution, like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, states that no person shall be denied the equal protection of the law. Despite this Constitutional protection, however, the United States remains structured by deep racial inequality. Human rights advocates have suggested that this contradiction stems from unwillingness on the part of the U.S. government to go beyond equal protection of the law and provide state protection for a broader scope of human rights such as economic and cultural rights. Although this criticism of U.S. law and policy is warranted, I suggest even the notion of U.S. commitment to equal protection of the law must be critically interrogated given this country’s history of white racial domination. Through an explication of the equal protection jurisprudence of the U.S. Supreme Court, I illustrate how the Court has embedded within the equal protection legal frame a postcivil rights racial logic, particularly tropes of black criminality and white innocence. In doing so, the Court has constructed a substantive legal definition of equal protection of the law that naturalizes and supports contemporary mechanisms and structures of white racial domination.
- Pierce, Jennifer L. “White racism, social class, and the backlash against affirmative action.” Sociology Compass 7, no. 11 (2013): 914-926. (OA)
Among scholars in sociology and history, the backlash against affirmative action has been blamed on White working-class Americans. What has received far less attention is the individual and collective institutional role(s) played by the White middle and upper middle-class in backlash politics. Given that individuals in these social classes have far greater institutional power than White working-class Americans, their beliefs and practices deserve sustained critical attention, and, as the few existing research studies demonstrate, White middle-class and upper middle-class Americans have played an influential role in backlash politics. Part of the reason for this gap in the literature is that these groups are more difficult to access as research subjects. Gaining access to this population may require working through many levels of a bureaucratic organization designed to protect their time and privacy. Moreover, when interviewed, these Americans are more likely than their working-class counterparts to mask racist sentiments through the polite language of “color blindness.” Research methods that complement surveys and in-depth interviews are recommended as strategies for probing White middle and upper middle-class Americans’ deeply hidden beliefs.
- Pierce, Jennifer L. “The History of Affirmative Action in the USA: A Teaching and Learning Guide.” Sociology Compass 8, no. 1 (2014): 89-98. (OA)
This Teaching and Learning Guide is designed to accompany my Sociology Compass article on affirmative action. The sample syllabus is organized historically beginning with FDR’s New Deal and the first use of the term affirmative action and ending with the most recent Supreme Court’s deliberations on this policy. In doing so, it attends not only to the varied meanings and forms of affirmative action across time but also the different interest groups arguing for and against this remedial policy. Along the way, it explores the changing history of race relations in the USA, considers the value of personal narratives as sources in exploring meaning and personhood, examines the ways the news media has framed the debate in contemporary America, and finally, speculates about the future of this controversial policy.
- Strmic‐Pawl, Hephzibah V. “The Influences Affecting and the Influential Effects of Multiracials: Multiracialism and Stratification.” Sociology Compass 8, no. 1 (2014): 63-77. (OA)
Early research on multiracials documents the existence of a newly emergent population, those who identify with more than one race or what is commonly now known as multiracials. Contemporary research on multiracialism has a new focus on the stratification that multiracials experience and how multiracials may be influencing a new racial hierarchy. This paper discusses some of the primary issues of multiracialism and stratification including colorism, the racial hierarchy, social class, gender and sexual orientation, and multiracial as a celebrity-like status. As the multiracial population grows, so must the field of multiracialism grows to include critical issues and questions regarding stratification.
- van Wormer, K., Jackson, D. W. III, Sudduth, C. (2014). “What We Can Learn of History from Older African American: Women Who Worked as Maids in the Deep South.” Western Journal of Black Studies 37 (4), 227-235. (locked)
This paper examines the life stories of six African American women who worked as maids for white families in the Deep South from the 1920s to the 1950s. Together their narratives present the facts about life during those times that are not contained in the history books. The role of older Americans as preservers of history and teachers of the younger generation is explored.
- Yancy, George, and Maria del Guadalupe Davidson, eds. Exploring Race in Predominantly White Classrooms: Scholars of Color Reflect. Routledge, 2014. (locked)
Although multicultural education has made significant gains in recent years, with many courses specifically devoted to the topic in both undergraduate and graduate education programs, and more scholars of color teaching in these programs, these victories bring with them a number of pedagogic dilemmas. Most students in these programs are not themselves students of color, meaning the topics and the faculty teaching them are often faced with groups of students whose backgrounds and perspectives may be decidedly different – even hostile – to multicultural pedagogy and curriculum. This edited collection brings together an interdisciplinary group of scholars of color to critically examine what it is like to explore race in predominantly white classrooms. It delves into the challenges academics face while dealing with the wide range of responses from both White students and students of color, and provides a powerful overview of how teachers of color highlight the continued importance and existence of race and racism.
Is success monolithic and limited to certain groups? Attributes of success cannot be monopolized by certain groups, cultures, ethnicities, or religious groups. Most people that are successful, in fact, appear to have characteristics in common and these characteristics are not driven by their membership in certain groups. The premise of the American democracy is based on the notion that all can succeed through hard work and access to opportunity. In Outliers, the Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell observes:
Nor is success simply the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf. It is, rather a gift. Outliers are those who have been given opportunities—and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.
Yet according to Amy Chua and Jeb Rosenfeld in their new book, The Triple Package, the combination of three cultural characteristics has led to the success of eight groups in America (Chinese, early Cuban exiles, Indians, Nigerians, Mormons, Iranians, Lebanese and Jews): 1) a superiority complex; 2) a sense of insecurity; and 3) impulse control. In fact, they assert,
all of America’s disproportionately successful groups have a superiority complex; in fact most are famous for it” (p. 72).
This superiority complex, they state, is “deeply ingrained” (p. 83). And strikingly, the authors do not support these sweeping statements with research findings or empirical sources of evidence.
Chua and Rosenfeld’s thesis has distinct Orwellian overtones by suggesting that some groups have what it takes to be more equal or successful than others. As NYU professor Suketu Mehta points out in an article titled “The ‘Tiger Mom Superiority Complex’” in Time Magazine,the book represents “a new strain of racial, ethnic, and cultural reductivism,” a sort of “ethnocentric thinking writ large” or what he terms “the new racism.” And, he adds, “I call it the new racism—and I take it rather personally.”
The Triple Package touches on some important themes, but also suffers from a number of critical flaws. Most importantly, the book does not address the nature of structural discrimination that is reflected in disparate historical, economic, and social realities for minorities through the predominance of what social theorist Joe Feagin calls the “white racial frame.” According to Feagin, this frame is comprised of racial stereotypes, racial narratives, racial images, and racialized emotions that shape how many whites behave and interact with all Americans of color. Systematic, structural forms of exclusion of minorities have pervaded access to housing, education, distribution of economic resources, and job opportunities.
Arguably, the sense of superiority of any group is affected by forces of social oppression and the internalization of these forces has an impact on the psyche of affected individuals. Chua and Rosenfeld have correctly identified the fact that blacks have been systematically denied access to a group superiority complex and bear a significant cultural burden by susceptibility to stereotype threat. However, the omission of African Americans from the chapter on impulse control seems to do a disservice to hardworking African Americans who have been highly successful.
Second, the co-authors’ emphasis is on immigrant success. Factors in immigrant success, however, are not representative of the American population as a whole. For the most part, the legal immigration system has provided upper and middle class individuals the opportunity to emigrate to the United States. Take, for example, the fact mentioned by Chua and Rosenfeld indicate that 65 percent of Iranian Americans are foreign born. They also distinguish between the success of the first wave of Cuban immigration between 1959 and 1973 which included an influx of mostly white middle and upper class professionals “at the pinnacle of a highly stratified society” (p. 37) with the later wave of Cuban immigrants who were black or of mixed race or mostly poor. As the authors observe, these individuals were not successful in business and are absent from Miami’s power elite. Yet rather than cultural factors, the racism and classicism evident in the treatment of second-generation Cuban immigrants represent powerful structural, social influences in their relative lack of mobility and success.
Third, the authors assert that the Triple Package is a cultural explanation of group success that does not include education or hard work as core components. In their view, education and hard work are dependent and not independent variables. This dismissal of education flies in the face of Horace Mann’s view that education is
a great equalizer of the conditions of men,–the balance wheel of the social machinery” that “gives each man the independence and the means by which he can resist the selfishness of other men.
Or to put it in a more contemporary framework, as Jamie Merisotis, President and CEO of the Lumina Foundation points out, “college-level learning is key to individual prosperity, economic security, and the strength of our American democracy.”
And, in Chua and Rosenfeld’s view, America previously had the Triple Package culture, but,
in the latter part of the twentieth century, something happened. America turned against both insecurity and impulse control (p. 208).
As a result, the authors indicate that to recover the Triple Package, Americans would have to recover from “instant gratification disorder” (p. 218).
The basis for these statements is not explained, documented, or footnoted. In essence, individuals from oppressed groups, no matter which group, have similar aspirations and wish for a better life and to be part of the American dream. These aspirations are not driven by cultural characteristics and can be advanced through education, hard work, and structural and opportunity mechanisms that facilitate individual progress. Due to the lack of evidence offered for the assertions of the Triple Package, the book essentially provides commentary on a very complex subject rather than scholarship and, as such, lacks credibility. Should certain groups accept the unsupported premises of this book, self-fulfilling prophecies could set in, and public opinion and debate could be affected by unverified statements that are not grounded in empirical data or social science research.
My current sociological research looks at the way millennials and digital natives (the subsequent generational cohort) use social media to construct identity in their everyday lives. One of the questions that I asked over the course of my ethnography was “Have you ever participated in a social issue campaign beyond reposting or retweeting about it on social media? If so, in what ways?” Overwhelmingly, the response was “No, I usually just retweet or repost it.”
I believe whole-heartedly in the power of awareness but as Mark Warren, the author of Fire in the Heart How White Activists Embrace Racial Justice puts it, “If we stop at moral impulse, we are left with altruism.”
Why the ❌? We know awareness won't end modern-day slavery, but we believe without it, modern-day slavery will never end. #enditmovement
— ❌ END IT (@enditmovement) February 27, 2014
The leaders of the End It movement seem to understand this on a rudimentary level but the same cannot be said about all of their followers and supporters. When I saw the red x’s on several of my students’ hands, I asked them about it. I said, “What type of slavery?” “Where is this slavery taking place?” “What can I do personally?” No one could reasonably answer any of those questions. When I asked, “Did you, or are you going to, donate money?” one person responded, “The hope is that people will eventually donate money.” “Where will the money go? What will they do with it?” My questions remained unanswered. They could only tell me that the red x’s were supposed to cause people to ask questions so that they could spread the word about world-wide slavery. When I asked questions, the message of freedom was not explained very thoroughly at all. Uninformed awareness is just as bad as unawareness itself.
This is a trend that I see in many social issue campaigns that take place on and through the aid of social media. While the so-called freedom fighters are undoubtedly well-intentioned, I see several issues with the way the message is constructed as well as with the proposed solutions. Beyond the social construction of the movement being somewhat lofty and ungrounded, I fear that the initiators of these types movements are merely banking on the other-directed vulnerability of millennials and digital natives. Social psychologists Wang, Tchernev, and Solloway cite users’ need to mitigate their self- image and the need to be affirmed by their peers, amongst two of the four main reasons why users engage with social media. Social media allows users to fulfill these needs as often as they want. Additionally, Quinn and Oldmeadow found that social media use by younger users helps ease the tensions that can be present during major transitional periods in life. Anyone with the right formula could amass a large following not because the people truly believed in the cause, but due to the nature of social media.
Beyond the primary issue with social media movements, I was underwhelmed with the lack of information I was presented with on the home page. The white savior narrative is prevalent and problematic and is reified throughout the page. Let me be clear, there is significant value in people of every race and nationality participating in a cause that is valid however there is a problem with the way the people are depicted on the site and on the Twitter feed. In the promotional video, the camera quickly pans over the people who are portrayed as either currently trapped in some sort of slavery or are survivors of it. The message is unclear. Again it is not the whiteness that I see as problematic, it is the underrepresentation of the people that the movement is trying to help. Where are these people? Why aren’t their voices heard most loudly and clearly? Visitors must go to the very last tab in the list – the “learn” tab, to watch the longer video which allows the audience to hear from persons who were formerly enslaved.
Enditmovement.com presents a dominant narrative instead of taking on a supporting role in the goal of liberation. Further, it does not do an adequate job of informing visitors about the roots of slavery and perhaps unintentionally hides the real issues at hand. The United States is one of the greatest catalysts of sex-slavery. The United States accounts for a large portion of the 32 billion dollars generated by sex slavery. The United Nations states that the U.S. is amongst the most common destinations for sex trafficking. We are producers of the enslavement that this movement is trying to fight. Though users can find this information on the site if they search for it, this information is vital to our understanding of this type of slavery and it is completely missing from the home page.
What is not missing, however, is the blatant consumerism. The tabs that allow you to learn more about the organizations who are being supported are neatly nested at the bottom of the page. Instead, upon a first encounter with the page, visitors are encouraged to visit the store to buy the gear and “be the billboard”. A lot of digging must be done to find the “slavery facts”. The average user is not very likely to go to the “learn” tab. Once found, the research is valid and points to a substantial problem in our global society. It also includes a list of sources and suggested readings however my students seemed to have missed the mark and settled for being aware but uneducated. I fear that this is the case for a majority of the red x bearers.
Perhaps the End It movement could be as powerful as it aims to be if it were to take on Gideon Sjoberg’s countersystem approach. “A countersystem analyst consciously tries to step outside of her or his own society in order to better view and critically asses it. … These critical social thinkers support the action of human beings in their own liberation” (Quoted in Feagin and Vera 2008:2).
As a Christian sociologist, I often find myself at an impasse. I strive to love people in my daily life and I recognize the desire to be a part of something that is bigger than one’s self. I do see validity in the core purpose of the #enditmovement. However my grounding in sociology makes it easy for me to see through the inauthenticity that can exist in “viral” movements on social media. I want to call everyone who believes themselves to be passionate about the liberation of all enslaved or marginalized peoples – religious or not – to inform yourself and others about the facts. Then use your knowledge to act beyond the confines of the screen.
Guest blogger Apryl Williams is a sociology graduate student at Texas A&M University.